Europe has been changing rapidly since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991). Several countries which used to be hidden under the cover of the Soviet Union have reappeared on the map.
Numerous nations which had been suppressed and indoctrinated by the communist ideology have become wide open for the gospel. An unprecedented spiritual movement has resulted in massive conversions to Christianity and planting of thousands of new churches.
Encouraging reports from mission fields inform us that young churches double in number every year. The indigenous missionaries are the most effective in the evangelistic ministry among their people. The goal of the EBF mission project is to facilitate evangelism and the planting of new Baptist churches in Europe and the Middle East.
Selected case studies of indigenous mission:
1. Armenia. There were only four Baptist churches when Armenia regained its long desired independence in 1991. Many Baptists left their country due to the persecution from the communist regime, which tried to destroy anything that was religious. The Baptist leaders were harshly persecuted and church buildings destroyed in the country known to be the oldest Christian nation (Armenia accepted Christianity in 301 AD). Nevertheless the mission continued in spite of difficulties.
Spectacular growth has been taking place in Armenia during the last 15 years (1991-2006). The nation has opened up to the gospel and Baptists have planted more than 100 new churches. The number of Baptists during the same period has grown from 350 to 3,500.
The growth has been possible because of the indigenous church planters who dedicated themselves to this ministry. Some foreign missions have been involved in a supportive way, but the initiative is on the part of the indigenous leaders.
2. Ukraine. New spiritual opportunities came to the Ukraine with “Perestroyka” in 1985. It resulted in the astonishing growth of Baptist churches. In 1990 there were 89,113 members in 1,100 churches. In 2002 there were 141,338 members in 2600 churches.
The Baptist Union of the Ukraine has purposefully planted several hundred new congregations during the time of independence from the Soviet regime. It has been quite a natural process, since people could have been able to read the Bible available to them (it had been forbidden during the communist time). The Baptist leaders have a vision to double the number of Baptists and local churches in the Ukraine.
3. Moldova. When Moldova had declared its political independence, in 1991, there had been about 11,000 Baptists worshipping in 130 churches. One and a half decades later (in 2005) the statistics registered 22,000 baptized members in 521 churches and church plants Indeed it shows an excellent growth rate. And the Baptist family of Moldova represents 1 percent of the population, which is the highest percentage in Europe.
Currently Baptists enjoy freedom to preach the gospel, train leaders and engage in mission, and they have a very good reputation in their nation. People of Moldova are still eager to hear the gospel all over the country. They are searching for some deeper values after so many years of atheistic indoctrination.
The nation of Moldova is considered to be the poorest in Europe–nearly 80 percent live on the edge of poverty, but spiritually it is thriving, and many new congregations are being planted.
Baptist churches in Moldova are exceptionally mission minded. They are sending missionaries to the Russian speaking world–even to Siberia, above the Arctic Circle. Moldovans are also involved in missionary activities where the Muslim religion is predominant (Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan etc.).
4. Russia. There are about 90,000 Baptists who worship in 1,400 churches and more than 200 new churches are being planted all over the vast territory of Russia. The Baptist leaders regularly organize missionary expeditions which are aimed at numerous ‘nations’ of Russia. The expectation is that mission tours will help the Union in their efforts of sharing the Good News, planting new churches and consolidating Baptist work all over the wide-spread Russian territory including the remote and huge Siberia.
5. Hungary. Hungary has enjoyed political freedom since 1989 and became a member of the European Union in 2004. According to the latest census, about 17,000 of its citizens (total population is about 10 million) are related in some way to the Baptist Union. The Baptist leaders noticed that the fastest growing segment of the Hungarian society is the Roma people, comprising about 8 percent (800,000) of the total population.
There are 12 Roma churches that are part of the Baptist Union. Roma churches are packed with people who sing joyfully and play numerous instruments during their services. Several testimonies would be shared between the songs. Their musical skills are very useful in evangelism. The first contact is usually initiated by some Christian relatives.
A church plant begins from a small group that would meet in a home even a couple of times a week. When a core group is established, an organized outreach in the open air is possible. Roma people change dramatically after conversion to Christianity–violent crimes drop in number, children start attending school etc. which is a very good testimony to the others. The Roma people value greatly an extended family and numerous kinships–their society is organized in clans.
These are just a few case studies although there are hundreds of nations in Europe and the Middle East and they would deserve our attention. Most of them have not been even mentioned in this report.
Editor’s Note: The article was originally posted earlier this week, but was replaced mid-day with a breaking story.
Daniel Trusiewicz is mission partnerships coordinator at the European Baptist Federation.